21st Sep2014

Magic in the Moonlight – Film

by timbaros

images-244Woody Allen makes about one film every year. When his films are good, they are very good, and when they are mediocre, they are disappointing. His new film – Magic in the Moonlight – falls into the later category.

Allen has been on a roll the last ten years. His output has included Blue Jasmine, for which Cate Blanchett won a 2014 Best Actress Oscar for her role as a socialite who’se life changes for the worse; Vicky Cristina Barcelona, winning Penelope Cruz a 2008 Best Supporting Actress Oscar; To Rome with Love; Midnight in Paris; Cassandra’s Dream and Match Point. The 79 year-old writer, director and actor has had a career that has spanned over 50 years, and there seems to be no slowing down for him. He’s already at work on his next project – called ‘Untitled Woody Allen Project” now that Magic in the Moonlight is in cinemas. It won’t be winning any awards like some of his previous films. It’s a cute film, that’s it, there’s no other way to describe it.

Similar in plot to Allen’s 2010 film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, where divorcee Gemma Jones sees a fortune teller for spiritual advice, in Magic in the Moonlight we get a main character who is psychic medium using seances to speak to the dead, and a magician who believes the psychic is a fake.

Set in 1920 south of France, Colin Firth plays Chinese magician Wei Ling Soo, who is actually Englishman Stanley Crawford, a well-known magician, world famous yet anonymous, whose neatest trick is to disappear and reappear in a different spot in the same room. He’s also cynical, grouchy, and not very pleasant to be around when he’s off stage. He hears about a woman who has amazing psychic abilities, so he goes on a mission, along with his life-long friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to see what this psychic is all about and to try to debunk her. The psychic turns out to be lovely Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), an American from Tennessee. Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) are in the South of France staying at an opulent house at the invitation of the very wealthy Catledge family, including the matriarch Grace (a Jacki Weaver – having the same facial expressions she has in all of her other films, though this time with more makeup), and her son Brice (Hamish Linklater) – who holds a candle to and romances Sophie to the point of singing songs to her on his tiny ukelele. They are convinced that Sophie can help Grace contact Grace’s late husband.

Crawford shows up at the Catledge mansion pretending to be a businessman named Stanley Taplinger. Immediately he dismisses her as a fake, though she seems to tell him events in his life that she couldn’t possibly know about. But during one seance where Sophie allegedly contacts Graces husband, there are knocks on a door and a candle floats in the air, Crawford (Taplinger) begins to think that Sophie’s talents are for real. He even confesses to his aunt who lives nearby (Eileen Atkins) that he believes her powers could actually be real. What follows next is a bit predictable. Crawford slowly starts falling for Sophie, especially after one day when they visit Crawford’s aunt and their car breaks down in heavy rain, they spend time with each other in a planetarium, drying off and learning about each other. By this time Sophie knows that Taplinger is actually Crawford who is actually Soo, and that he has a fiancée back home in London.

So Crawford slowly starts falling in love with Sophie, even though Brice is still very much in the picture. Crawford even confesses this to his aunt who tells him to go for it, coaxing out of him his true feelings for Sophie. The rest plays out like you would expect it, with a very predictable ending that is not very original.

Magic in the Moonlight has the same sort of romanticism these as Allen’s Midnight in Paris and To Rome With Love. In these three films, love is in the air and there’s a question but yet always a certainty if the two leads will wind up with each other or not. But Magic in the Moonlight is missing some of the Woody Allen formula. Sure, Firth is excellent as the doubting magician, and Stone is glowing everytime she is on screen, and the rest of cast (bar Weaver) are all just fine. But this is Allen’s show, and we can’t help but realize that there is not much magic in Magic in the Moonlight.

07th Sep2014

Before I go to Sleep – Film

by timbaros

before-i-go-to-sleep-picture-kidmanChristine wakes up everyday remembering nothing. She lives with a man who says he’s her husband, but she doesn’t remember him. One day she discovers the shocking truth about him, and the family she used to have, in the new film Before I Go To Sleep.

Nicole Kidman plays Christine. Ten years ago she was involved in an incident and ever since then she’s not been able to remember anything – she’s got amnesia. Everyday she looks at the photographs her husband Ben (Colin Firth) has put on the bathroom wall to help her spark memories of her life before the incident. Ben has even added post-it notes to the wall pointing to him that say ‘this is your husband’, and every morning, and at night when he comes home from his professor job, he tells her ‘I’m your husband.’
Christine uses a videocamera given to her by Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) where she has recorded a message to herself explaining to herself her identity. Meanwhile, Dr. Nasch calls Christine everyday to remind her to play the videocamera so that she understands who she is and what is happening to her. Everyday his phone call to her is the same ‘Good morning Christine, this is Dr. Nasch. You won’t remember me but I’m helping you in your recovery. Go to your closet and have a look at the videocamera in the bottom drawer and look at the videodiary…. Do this and I will call you back in a few minutes.’
Christine still thinks she’s ten years younger than she actually is, but over the course of the movie she starts to remember bits and pieces of her previous life, with some help from Dr. Nasch. Is he helping her in her recovery or is he playing with her mind? Christine, at some point, remembers that she had a son, and she asks Ben about it. He confirms this but says their son died four years ago. But is he hiding some of the facts from her so as not to hurt her, and perhaps hiding something more? Christine then remembers a friend of hers, Claire (Anne-Marie Duff), who she meets up with and who confesses to Christine that she and Ben had an affair years ago. This revelation confuses Christine even more and it’s at this point that she questions her life and the people around her and who she can and cannot trust. It’s up to Christine, on her own, to figure out what exactly happened to her, and who is the identity of the man she lives with?
Before I Go To Sleep is based on the book of the same name by Steve J. Watson, adapted for the screen and directed by Rowan Joffé. We’re never too sure whether Christine is crazy and doesn’t understand the events around her situation and that she thinks she’s a victim of a conspiracy, or if she’s being exploited by the men around her and needs to figure out a way to escape. And this is the film’s strong point, not knowing what is what and who is who until the end of the film when the incident that caused her to have amnesia is explained. Kidman, who is in every scene of the film, is confused and lost, living in a claustrophobic world, wearing no makeup – with many closeups, she’s playing a character in search of her character. Firth is perfect as Ben, Christine’s husband who made the decision to check her out of the hospital where she was being treated (not in the film) for amnesia and care for her at home. Kidman and Firth both worked together in last year’s The Railway Man, a film that had tepid reviews. They’re better together in this film. Mark Strong is excellent as Dr. Nasch – he’s Christine’s lifeline, and the man who tries to keep her sanity. But at the ending of Before I Go To Sleep it creates a jigsaw puzzle that makes it difficult to understand the men’s motives, especially Ben’s motive, why he did what he did to her, and especially who exactly is Dr. Nasch. So there are more questions than answers when the film is finished. I would recommend reading the book to get a better grasp on the story as the finale of the film will just confuse and frustrate you.

 

12th Jan2014

The Railway Man – Film

by timbaros

images-63The Railway Man is based on the true story and best-selling memoir by Eric Lomax, a British Army Officer who has a hard time dealing with his war past when he was sent to a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1942.

Lomax, played by Colin Firth, is a sixty-something man who also happens to be a railroad enthusiast who has collected railway memorabilia all his life. The film begins with Lomax, in Berwick-upon-Tweed, in 1980, doing what he likes to do best since he was a boy, being enthralled by steam trains, and their timetables. On one of the trains, after a connection in Crewe, he sits across from Patti (a beautiful Nicole Kidman), a young recently divorced woman who is on her way up to Scotland. He impresses her with his train knowledge, and they chat then say their goodbyes. He manages to track her down (all too easily) and before you know it they end up getting married (it happens too quickly). After their marriage, Patti notices strange strange behavior from Eric. At times he becomes distant, clams up and wants to be left alone, has nightmares, and has stopped paying the bills, including the rent. Patti tries to get Eric to open up about what is bothering him (post-traumatic stress), but he simply does not (and cannot). Patti goes to speak to one of his friends at the lodge he hangs out in, Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), who tells him about Eric’s tragic WWII past.
The Railway Man then begins as a new movie, transporting us to 1942 Singapore. Eric, now a young man (played by a very good Jeremy Irvine), is a Signals Engineer with the British arm. Him, along with a few thousand other soldiers, become prisoners of war after the Japanese forces overrun Singapore. We see the Japanese flag go up, and the soldiers get thrown into railway cattle cars to be sent to an unknown location. Once at a prisoner-of-war camp, they are put to work on the notorious Burma Death Railway where men of all ages were forced to break through rock to make the railway, some with their bare hands, at times beaten and starved. Trying desperately to survive, Eric and some of the soldiers attempt to build a radio from various parts collected from within the camp. Unfortunately, they are caught by the Japanese officers and are subjected to beatings, interrogation, and torture. Eric manages to survive all of this, however, the experience leave him physically and emotionally scared for life. Finlay tells Patti that “War leaves a mark.”
Finlay goes on to tell Patti that “You can’t possibly imagine what he’s been through.” She is very inquisitive why there is such a code of silence between these ex-British soldiers, and why they don’t talk about what happened to them in the war.  Finlay gives Patti one final bit of information, he knows where Eric can find the Japanese officer who beat him up all those decades ago. She gives this info to Eric, which sets up an expected, and unrealistic, showdown between the two men, at the exact same location. The tortured is now the torturer.
The Railway Man tries to tell a very moving, beautiful and true story, but it’s attempts to do so fail miserably by director Jonathan Teplitsky. While the relationship between Eric and Patti is a loving one, and the 1942 scenes very realistic in their execution and acting, as a whole The Railway Man is not a great film. Some scenes feel forced, some not natural at all. The filmmakers went to great expense and travel to try to turn Lomax’s book into a film; they went to Edinburgh to visit Eric’s old stomping grounds, they went to his school, his place of work, the bridge where he watched trains go by, they even went to his childhood home, and also to Tokyo to record interviews with Takashi Nagase, the Japanese soldier who tortured Eric during the war. But as a whole, it fails to become the epic film it yearns to be. And unfortunately, Eric Lomax died in 2012, not having been able to see the story of his life on the big screen. He was able to visit the set when they were filming, but perhaps it was best that he didn’t see the movie. Eric had survived the darkest place and lived with it his whole adult life, so why would he want to relive it on the big screen in his old age? The catharsis of this film is that he was able to shake off the bad memories of the war and come to terms with the man who caused him most harm (physical and emotional), and with a great love, who helped him get through life to its natural end.
The Railway Man is a powerful story of love and redemption but will probably get lost with the rest of the Christmas/ award worthy films that are now being released. It is worthy of a watch on DVD at home.